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Survival Skills

Ten best reasons for winter camping

Ten best reasons for winter camping

The best camping season, IHO, starts when the snow flies. Here’s why you should consider winter camping.

by Leon Pantenburg

In July, 1981, I hiked north along the Mississippi River in Louisiana. I was headed home after an end-to-end canoe trip of the big river the previous year. I decided to follow the example of the 1840s keelboaters, who walked home on the Natchez Trace after selling their cargo in New Orleans. My intention was to walk to Iowa from Louisiana on the levees.

This tent is completely anchored with deadheads on top of about eight feet of snow.

This tent is completely anchored with deadheads on top of about eight feet of snow.

It was miserable. If I didn’t walk in the sun, on top of the bank in the 100-degree heat, the mosquitoes would carry me away. I had to set up my camp early, because as soon as the sun started going down, clouds of biters descended. I’d crawl inside the sweltering tent, and lay sweating on top of my sleeping bag.

I’ll take six feet of snow, and a bivouac in an igloo or tarp shelter anytime over hot weather summer camping.

Here are some reasons why a prepper/survivalist should think about camping during cold weather, in deep snow.

No bugs: (See It was miserable.) I hate sweating, heat and humidity and swatting mosquitoes. If you go to parts of  northern Minnesota and Canada in the summer, you’ll end up fighting swarms of No-Seeums and black flies. And the mosquitoes appear in clouds during the brief summers on the Alaskan tundra. There are no nasty, biting insects in winter camping.

Camp in formerly inaccessible areas: Like swamps. When the ground is frozen, you can go into areas that may have be marsh or wetlands during the summer. You can cross frozen streams and rivers that might have been barriers during warm weather. You’ll open up a whole new area of possibilities.

Winter camping requires a whole different set of survival skills. This snow cave makes a good emergency shelter.

Winter camping requires a whole different set of survival skills. This snow cave makes a good emergency shelter.

 No crowds: Ever ended up at a campsite that was crowded with drunk partiers and their loud music and noise? These people stay inside when it gets cold and play video games, watch football and  play beer pong. You won’t see them in the woods.

Solitude: Come nice weather, all popular campsites will be packed with other urban escapees. In the winter, you may be only one there. This gives the opportunity for  sitting around a campfire (generally, with no danger of forest fire) and enjoying just being there.

See more wildlife: The solitude encourages animals to move around more naturally. You’ll get to see more of them, acting as they normally would.

Food doesn’t go bad: You’ll still need a good cooler, but during the winter, it will be to keep your food from freezing. And you won’t have to fight off the flies from landing on the ingredients when you’re cooking.

Check out gear: Find out if that sleeping bag is really rated to 0 degrees. Or if that propane stove will light when frozen. Or if those boots will keep your feet warm. Use your winter gear, and find out if it’s dependable before you have to use it during an emergency.

Practice emergency survival: When (Not if!) the stuff ever hits the fan, Murphy says it will happen at the worst possible time. If you live in the Midwest, you should be concerned about the New Madrid earthquake fault, and having to evacuate your home during a blizzard. On the west coast, there is the San Andrus and the Cascadia subduction zone. The United States is one big earthquake zone, so plan accordingly.

Prepare for hunting season: You may start out elk hunting in beautiful, summer-like weather that turns into a blizzard. Been there, done that. Practicing winter camping will prepare you for any weather extreme.

These Boy Scouts crowded into an igloo during a winter campout. They have bragging rights.

These Boy Scouts pose in an igloo during a winter campout. They have earned bragging rights.

Develop self confidence: Help a kid achieve something that was hard to do, and they gain confidence in their ability to do other hard things. I see this a lot after a youngster successfully completes his first winter campout.

Bragging rights and great memories: Most people can’t imagine going outside in the winter. Really. So when you go back to work or school after a weekend of snow camping, you can dominate the “What did you do this weekend?” conversation around the water cooler. Besides, what’s interesting about a weekend spent in front of a computer screen gaming?


Don’t pass up one of the best times of the year for outdoor adventures – go outside, and try winter camping!
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Survival Skills

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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